Learning Spanish DEFINITELY isn’t as simple as uno, dos, tres but it’s also not as much of a hopeless endeavor as it might feel right now. Check out these tips that I’ve developed and used to help my abilities with the language! (Don’t let the picture fool you, learning Spanish is fun)
One day I’ll post a longer rant-post about how bitchy parents and a shitty public-school system stunted my Spanish growth.
But the cliff notes are that when I arrived to Spain to begin my study abroad experience (and after five and a half years of taking Spanish classes), I could barely say español. And I understood next to nothing. But in those 5 months abroad, and in the year since I returned, my Spanish has grown exponentially and I am now an advanced speaker.
How did I do it? Well, I don’t know exactly, but here are my suggestions for anyone serious about learning Spanish!
You really have to go abroad. I can’t emphasize this enough. Sure, youtube tutorials, rosetta stone, and the Mexican restaurant down the street are great places to learn more Spanish, but nothing beats experiencing the culture for an extended period of time. And studying abroad really isn’t that difficult. With the program that my university offered, I payed just a little bit more for the semester I was abroad than I would have if I had stayed in the states. Tuition for the classes was the same (and I could still use all of my scholarships that I had with the school) and the cost of living with the host family/food was comparable to living in shitty dorms/eating in shitty cafeterias. So what else is left? A plane ticket, maybe? It was super cheap, and this is why I would advise anyone to study abroad for a semester instead of going for a Maymester/through the summer. You get much more bang for your buck, you stay longer, and you would be paying almost just as much as you would be if you were back in the states. This is the time to do it!
- Not in school anymore? Not a problem. I will be returning to Spain in the fall with the Cultural Ambassadors program (los auxiliares de conversación) that the Spanish Ministry of Education offers to Americans/Canadians/Brits looking to teach English for a school year. But there are others, including BEDA. And Spain is just one country in the Spanish-speaking world. If you’re serious about developing your skills, there are ways to live abroad for an extended period of time! All it takes is some research.
- Find someone to speak Spanish with. I’ve made friends with the staff of the local Mexican restaurant and try to speak Spanish with them when I go in. I’ve also made friends abroad, online, and locally who just happen to speak Spanish. Put on your Tinder that you’re looking to speak Spanish with people. I’ve gone on quite a few dates with heritage speakers where we got to know each other in Spanish (spoiler alert: I’m single). There are so many ways in which you can meet other people who speak Spanish or people who, like you, are eager to learn and practice. It’s a great way to improve your skills and make friends!
- Duolingo is alright. For those of you who don’t know, Duolingo is basically a free Rosetta Stone (and, coming from someone who has used Rosetta Stone, it is almost the same exact thing). It’s resourceful for someone who can’t go abroad and is maybe too shy to take a shot at a conversation just yet. Duolingo refreshes you on useful, daily vocabulary and verbage. You can find your niche with their placement test or just start from scratch. While Duolingo is a good refresher, I nonetheless do not believe that language-learning softwares alone will make you fluent. You need the human interaction. Also, I’ve completed Duolingo. There’s a lot that’s simply not in the program. But it covers the basics.
- Do not translate to English in your head. This is probably the most useful (and most exhausting) tip on the list. In my Spanish classes, I would always listen to the teacher and translate, word for word, the Spanish for the English. There are major problems with this: 1: English and Spanish are structurally very different (lo uso para cocinar IS NOT it I use for to cook). 2: You simply get behind. By the time I remembered that uso is the present-tense indicative form of usar, which means to use, the speaker has completely changed the subject and you’ve been thinking for 5 minutes. What’s a boy to do? Well…
- Instead, think in Spanish (and, yes, it’s possible). This is how I began thinking in Spanish: instead of translating the words into English in my head, I repeated the word in my head in Spanish as the teacher/speaker said them. This stops your brain from translating and forces you to think in concepts and images rather than translations. Its tough and, by the end of the conversation, you’ll be tired as shit and you’ll need a few ibuprofen. But, with practice, you’ll stop having to repeat them and, instead, you’ll hear the words like you do in English. Oh, and you’ll start dreaming in Spanish, too.
- Talk to yourself. Seriously. I talk to myself in Spanish all the time. In the shower. When I’m home alone. When I’m talking to my dogs. Even when I’m driving, sometimes I’ll turn the radio off and just talk to myself in Spanish (helpful hint: if someone sees you, touch the ear furthest from the onlooker as if you’re using a bluetooth). There’s no shame!
- Music, movies, youtube, books, and Pasapalabra. There are so many latino/reggaeton/bachata playlists and artists on Spotify that your head will explode. It’s good music. Listen, memorize the tunes, learn the lyrics (letra en español). You have no idea how much Pitbull and Romeo Santos have aided in my Spanish learning. Same with movies (no shame in closed captioning!), TV shows, Youtube channels, interviews with your favorite Spanish-speaking celebs, reruns of Pasapalabra (never heard of it? It’s a fucking awesome Spanish game show). The possibilities are endless.
- Know your dialects. Spanish, I think even more so than English, is a language that changes drastically depending on where you’re speaking. And these aren’t just random words. Simple and common words like juice, computer, and pretty much every article of clothing imaginable are different depending on where you’re talking. Don’t believe me? Watch this video.
Come to terms with the fact that fluency is a vague and hard-to-define concept. I thought that I would be “fluent” after five months in Spain (and I secretly hope I’ll be “fluent” after 8-9 more later this year). But I don’t know if I believe in fluency anymore. Sure, that’s the overall goal, but “fluent” speakers aren’t the only ones who can have a good time. When I first arrived in Spain I thought that, since I was fluent, I somehow didn’t have a right to talk to people in the discotecas or have conversations about politics or sexuality with my padre. And, sure, I’m not fluent today, but I still created (and continue to create) relationships with friends who only speak Spanish. I treat my Spanish family as my family, and they do the same to me. Give yourself authority to have conversations no matter what level you’re at! Don’t be afraid to fuck up.
What would you add to the list? Are there any tips that you disagree with/have trouble with? What has worked for you in the past? Let me know in the comments!